After discussing our group's progress with Dr.Vesna, we came to the conclusion that there will be two main parts to the sustainability chapter. 1) The environment can help us 2) We can help the environment. My piece is the first piece in the first part, which introduces core environmental topics and biomimicry. Other people within part 1 will go more in depth to these topics, so my contribution will provide an overview and background knowledge. I am struggling with getting original images/artworks of biomimicry that are not copywrited. I am hoping to figure this out this week.
Outline of the chapter:
ENVIRONMENT CAN HELP US
WE CAN HELP THE ENVIRONMENT :Changing our perception to help the environment too
Updated Paper Draft:
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected many societal infrastructures in the few months that it has existed for. Primarily, the initial wave of the pandemic started with civilians stocking up on food, leading empty shelves in the supermarket. According to CNBC's Huileng Tan, recent efforts to stock up on non-perishable foods has caused increased pressure on supply and trade efforts. This pressure has translated to a rise in prices of rice, pasta, bread, and other wheat items by about 15%, which is expected to grow more throughout 2020. Interestingly, while the supermarket shelves have been empty, there has been an increase in food waste amid the pandemic. While everyday consumers have increased their demand, bulk buyers such as restaurants and college dining halls have significantly decreased their deliveries due to quarantine closures (Behsudi and Mccrimmon 2020). According to Ben Feldman from the Farmers Market Coalition, farmers planned their sales months in advance, and without anticipating the outbreak, markets are forced to close and perishable produce is going to waste (Royte 2020). Additionally, as described by Royte, most supermarkets usually donate excess food to food banks. With the increase in supermarket demand and thus less excess food, there are less donations to the food banks. This translates towards increased food insecurity for individuals who are likely also those suffering from job losses and financial insecurity (Royte 2020). The fact that millions of crops are going to waste, while supermarkets are empty, and select individuals are losing food security, emphasizes the complexity of the issue. However the COVID-19 pandemic did not create this issue, it simply emphasized the disequilibrium of the current food production and waste in America, indicating major problems in food recycling.
Holes within the food recycling system are difficult to combat within the individual scale, but we may be able to learn something from Linda Weintraub’s work in Eco Materialism. Weintraub describes Eco Materialism as "regain(ing) kinship between the physicality of human bodies with the physicality of the planet" (Weintraub, Introduction). As she expresses in "What’s Next? Eco Materialism and Contemporary Art", current everyday items are greatly infused with technology, thus causing a disconnect between humans and unmodified, natural resources. Since the current dichotomy of food shortage and waste are a byproduct of machine production and is thus human-driven and unnatural in nature, we may be able to use better and natural solutions instead to fix the issue. The twenty-first century is infused with technology that is difficult to disconnect from. Incorporating this technology in a more natural and sustainable way will likely be an integral stepping stone towards getting in touch with nature.
A photo by Thomas Le illustrating what the supermarkets were like before the quarantine (https://unsplash.com/photos/pRJhn4MbsMM)
Expanding on the ideals of Eco Materialism would allow us to use technology as a tool to become more in tune with nature, rather than trying to disconnect from nature altogether. Some movements have already taken part in these issues. One prime example standing at the intersection of art and biotechnology is the new Biomimicry movement. Biomimicrists aim to copy nature’s designs, and apply them towards human needs. As described by The Biomimicry website, biomimicry inventions function to “self-assemble, optimize rather than maximize, use free energy, cross-pollinate, embrace diversity, adapt and evolve, and use life-friendly materials and processes, engage in symbiotic relationships, and enhance the biosphere” (biomimicrysa.co.za). These natural designs can be plant or animal-inspired, or even inspired based on creations by animals or plants. While this may seem niche to some, taking inspiration from nature has been shown to be applicable in a variety of areas. This is largely due to the fact that the natural world has been evolving for billions of years, thus allowing for a large amount of time of trial and error towards achieving optimal design and architecture (Vox 2017). Comparing this with the amount of time that architects, physicists, and artists have been developing their tools and design, it is clear that nature would have more efficient solutions. Moreover, since nature evolved on scarce material availability, often focusing on manipulating shape to use less material. Given that nature’s inventions are always recyclable, sustainable, and non-redundant, Biomimicry solutions have been shown to be more energy efficient and less complex and wasteful than normal solutions (BRE 2007, published in Taylor 2015). From using a mosquito bite to learn how to make an efficient needle (Holloway 2018) , to using a beetle to create an efficient greenhouse (Watson 2016), biomimicry has solutions for problems ranging in complexity and size.
Some art students have recently been implementing biomimicry techniques to enhance the functional ability of their artwork. For example, while making a wood and string sculpture, Emily Longbrake incorporated the anatomy of a snake's spine into the art. Her purpose was to model how the snake's bones move within their sockets as the snake slithered, which allowed her to flatten her sculpture into a 2D structure (Faller 2017). Other artists like Longbrake present their work at the Tempe Center for the Arts, “Biomimicry: Nature Inspired Design” exhibition. Such art movements as this one aims to shift the art focus from humans to nature and life. However, this movement is not new to art. According to Aziz and Sherif (2015), ancient Egyptians modeled their temple’s columns after the lotus plant, while Greek and Roman columns closely modeled after the Acanthus plant. Clearly, using biomimicry helped achieve qualities of the artwork that would otherwise have taken years to design. Although a lot of art is based on illustrating the natural world, actually integrating the theory behind nature's designs within the artwork has allowed for major technological advancements.
Additionally, biomimicry solutions have also been applied towards architecture and design.
[work in progress]
The Eden project - Cornwall England
Chair by Lilian Van Daal
New advancements in biomimicry have also had implications towards medicine and health. For example, Sharklet Technologies have developed an antimicrobial surface that deters microbes from adhering to by mimicking the pattern of a shark’s skin denticles (Sharklet website). Since sharks have no bacteria on its outer surface, biomimicrists have realized that studying the skin surface under a microscope may reveal potential applicable antimicrobial techniques or textures that can be used in a hospital or at home. Another medicinal biomimicry example stems from eliminating unrecyclable plastic and creating a more natural and compostable alternative. Veronica Harwood-Stevenson and her company Humble Bee have recently found that the Australian Hylaeus nubilosus masked bee naturally creates a plastic-like nesting material that is “non-toxic, waterproof, flame-resistant, and able to withstand heat” (Beabout 2020). Humble Bee has been working to recreate this material to replace plastic worldwide. In light of the recent coronavirus pandemic, we have been using millions of medical supplies at a very fast rate. Having cheaper, and recyclable biomimicry plastic personal protective equipment (masks, gloves) would help prevent pollution and waste. Additionally, having antimicrobial surfaces like Sharklet would not only help prevent the virus from spread in hospitals, but help conserve disinfectant use and thus aerosol pollutants. Although these solutions will not appear overnight during the pandemic, we can certainly begin to explore these now to help make the medicinal field more eco friendly.
Clearly, biomimicry can be applied to a wide array of areas, and seems to hold the key toward a world of eco materialistic and environmental solutions to everyday problems. It is due to this wide-scale applicability that some predict that by using biomimicry concepts, there will one day be “living cities”, where the industrial-natural boundary is indistinguishable.Using biomimetric solutions however requires an in depth understanding of a specific biological process. Due to this, diverse collaboration is necessary between biologists, engineers, designers, and more departments. Once a solution is found, it tends to use the least amount of material necessary. This is because, in nature, shape is cheap and materials are expensive. Nature has evolved for millions of years, thus the processes in the natural world are efficient and reusable. By understanding how nature has approached a problem in the modern world, we can achieve better solutions faster.
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